Sunday, April 20, 2008

Heathrow part 2 – a major learning failure


I’m really disappointed, for years I’ve been pointing to Terminal 5 construction as a great example of lean ideas at work. It gets delivered on schedule and then what? Mess. Seems everyone will forget it was on time and remember the opening week nightmares.

How come after being an exemplar of Lean techniques during construction Terminal 5 was such a mess at opening?

To recap: BAA decided that T5 was such a big project, and so strategically important, that they couldn’t follow “traditional” construction practice and outsource it to the cheapest bidder. (A quick look at the Wembly Stadium debacle is enlightening.) So, BAA more or less re-invented construction project management along lean principle and delivered their new terminal on time and on budget.

Then BAA handed over T5 to British Airways who messed it up. Weeks of passenger delays, cancelled flights, lost baggage and humiliating publicity which some have called a “National disgrace”.

Most of the problems seem to have been on the BA end but BAA is not in the clear. BAA treated T5 construction as a project, the project (mostly) ended when T5 was given to BA. At that point the bad management, sloppy thinking, and lack of customer respect endemic in the rest of BAA came to T5.

The BAA side of things is an example of how the Project Approach is wrong. BAA should have taken a Product Approach. The product needs to be fully in use, product development continues.

Lesson for software companies: It is a Product, Not a Project.

Now to BA.

From the reports I have read BA has confrontational management. Managers were scared to report problems up the chain so senior managers never heard of problems.

Lesson for software companies: Managers need to stay in contact with what happens on the ground. How actual employee are doing their jobs. Macho management is bad management.

Moving into T5 stretched BA’s resources. Staff from T1 had to move to T5 and find their way around a new terminal with new machines. They had only had limited time to familiarise themselves with the terminal and equipment. In fact, during the learning process they needed more time than usual.

Lesson for software companies: Allow time for learning, don’t skimp; over-staff your departments when big changes are happening. The time of change is not the time to extract savings. That comes later.

Not only is BA confrontational but it has poor employee relations. I suspect the flow of ideas between employees and managers is poor. Employees probably aren’t willing to trust managers and give extra performance. Why should they be?

Lesson for software companies: Trust your employees, help them trust you.

Rightly BA didn’t attempt to move all their flights in one go. However, they did move an awful lot in one wave, and at the same time moved other flights from Gatwick to Heathrow. This wasn’t an incremental delivery.

Lesson for software companies: Incremental delivery means many small deliveries. Not two big ones.

It seems we have a major learning failure at T5. BAA construction teams learned completely new ways of working to deliver on time. But this learning failed to cross the boundary to BAA operations and BA. How often have we heard that before?